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Canberra
Friday, May 7, 2021

New laws will protect vulnerable people from abuse, ACT Attorney-General says

Institutions and individuals who abuse, fail to protect, or neglect vulnerable people in their care will be committing an offence under new laws in the Crimes Act 1900 (ACT), ACT Attorney-General, Shane Rattenbury, announced on Tuesday, 20 April.

Three new offences were introduced to better protect vulnerable Canberrans: people with a disability, people aged over 60, people living with a physical or mental impairment, or people who are socially isolated.

Under the new laws, Mr Rattenbury explained, those who abuse or neglect vulnerable people while in their care, whether at home or in an institution, could face criminal charges. 

A person in authority in an institution that fails to protect a vulnerable person from a serious criminal offence could also face criminal charges.

“The ACT Government is working to ensure all of our community members feel safe, and these laws are intended to deter abusive treatment of those in the greatest need of help and protection,” Mr Rattenbury said.

Many community members rely on family members or paid carers to help them with shopping, cleaning, bathing, and other essential tasks, Mr Rattenbury explained.

“This assistance is invaluable to vulnerable people, but comes with the responsibility of treating all people with the dignity and respect they deserve.

“While most individuals and institutions are doing the right thing, unfortunately, some vulnerable people suffer abuse and neglect at the hands of paid and unpaid carers who should be looking out for their welfare.”

The Attorney-General said community consultation in 2019 made it clear that the ACT Government should define offences relating to elder abuse and vulnerable people abuse.

“While much of the conduct captured by these offences was already criminal, these laws … ensure the community is aware that there are laws protecting people who are particularly disadvantaged.

“As public awareness of this issue has increased in recent years, it is important that the ACT Government, police, and the courts recognise abuse of vulnerable people as a special class of abuse needing specific attention.”

Emma Davidson, Minister for Disability and Assistant Minister for Seniors, Veterans, Families and Community Services, said the new laws would better support people at greater risk of crime, particularly older Canberrans and people with disability.

“The ACT Government is committed to strengthening our community by removing barriers, so people with disability and older Canberrans have equal access to justice,” she said.

Under the Disability Justice Strategy 2019–2029, she said, the ACT Government has developed a community of practice with disability liaison officers so that agencies and organisations can work better with people with disability and navigate the system.

Through the Age-Friendly City Plan 2020–2024, the ACT Government has delivered five workshops to promote the home safety program for older Canberrans.

“This is part of our commitment to ensure older Canberrans are safe, secure, and free from abuse,” Ms Davidson said.

If you or someone you know needs help:

  • Victims and witnesses can report abusive or negligent behaviour towards a vulnerable person to the police. To report a crime, contact ACT Policing on 131 444, or visit your local police station.

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